‘The Taliban shot my wife in the head’: ex-UK government contractor

Asif* has lost almost everything since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. His wife was shot dead. He fled to Pakistan but has no legal status there and is living in a mosque while seeking treatment for recurrent cancer. He worked for the United Nations and other international organisations including the former UK Department for International Development (DfID). Until 2016 he also worked for Adam Smith International on British government-funded projects.

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Afghanistan: the left behind


Afghanistan: the left behind

The crowds fighting to get into Kabul airport for evacuation dispersed months ago,
but while the scramble to leave Taliban-controlled Afghanistan became
less visible when the last foreign troops left in August 2021, it got no
less desperate.

Since then, reprisal killings have regularly been reported from across the country, including dozens detailed in a recent report from Human Rights Watch.

For those still in Afghanistan, living in hiding or in permanent fear for months now, the dangers seem to be increasing as the options for escape narrow.

The UK government has tightened rules for its ARAP visa programme for former employees.

A second scheme offering a path to safety to a wider section of Afghans at risk was heavily promoted by the government but it only began operating this month, and there are no details of how individuals can apply.

And while the Taliban
have largely kept a promise to allow those with tickets and documents
to fly out, Afghan passports are difficult to secure , visas are even
more challenging, and flights are still prohibitively expensive.

series features the stories of those who are trapped, in Afghanistan or
in limbo as they search for safe haven, fearing for their lives from
Taliban attacks or through hunger because they cannot work.

Emma Graham-Harrison

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In September, my wife went to the house of one my relatives with another family member to collect some of our belongings – she was three months pregnant with our first child. They went at midnight, so they wouldn’t be seen or recognised.

But someone must have reported them, because early in the morning the Taliban came to the house and started shooting. She had been asleep, and when she came out to see what was happening, one of the Taliban just shot her in the head.

Three days later, she died in hospital. After she died they detained the other family member for a few days and said: “We won’t release you until you say where Asif is.”

I worked with the United Nations and other international organisations including DfID for over 14 years. When I took on a senior role with Adam Smith International, often I was one of the only Afghans in leadership meetings. I travelled a lot around all the provinces for work, which made me a bit high profile, and I was implementing systemic reforms against corruption.

There was a Taliban mullah in my home province who used to call me and ask for cash, for phone credit for his fighters. [In Afghanistan, under the now-fallen republic, many organisations and people paid off the Taliban for security.] He used to call me “bacha angrez” (son of the British) when I refused, saying I was not even Afghan. He called 10 or 20 times, but I always rejected their requests, because I never thought the Taliban would take over, I never thought I needed to take care of these people.

Even when the Taliban took over, I was very confident that I wasn’t at risk, because I was not corrupt and I did nothing wrong. But in early August I found out that the mullah had asked people to find me at any cost. So I left my house, and contacted my former employers, told them these people wanted to kill me and they sent me the [UK government’s] Afghan relocations and assistance policy link. I applied the same day, and a few days later I got an email asking about my dependents. I replied straight away, but I never got any more calls or any response, and on 27 August the evacuation finished. In those 10 days I moved house four times, then when there were no more flights I decided I had to leave Afghanistan, at any cost and by any route.

I came to Kandahar province where smugglers had made a hole under the border fence with Pakistan. We crossed and walked for around four hours, barefoot, so our shoes wouldn’t make a sound. It was then my wife went to the house to collect the belongings – she wanted to join me and had applied for a visa. It was a love marriage. We never thought they would attack her. She had two surgeries but passed away later in the month.

I cannot go back. Family and friends all tell me when the Taliban see you they will not wait for one minute to kill you. But here I have no legal documents, I can’t go to the guesthouse, I can’t rent a room, this is really the problem. And doctors told me the cancer has returned.

Sometimes I stay with friends. When I see there is no place, I go and pass my night in a mosque. The UK is not accepting us, I can’t go back to Afghanistan. So what to do? We were wrong to work for the UK.

*The name has been changed for this article.

source: theguardian.com